“Changing Times” was the theme of World Horse Welfare’s annual conference on 31st October. The chief executive of World Horse Welfare, Roly Owers highlighted diverse issues:
“The public rightly expects the welfare of all horses used in riding, sport and racing to be paramount. We couldn’t agree more. – but some now believe that using horses in sport is inherently exploitative and cruel, not least because they put the horse at risk of injury and fatality. There are a “growing minority” of people who see horses almost as people, while others expect to see them left alone with nature.
We take the view that both these approaches carry grave risks for equine welfare.
Mr Owers mentioned a recent parliamentary petition and debate calling for an independent body to regulate horse welfare in racing, which attracted more than 100,000 signatures, as “a clear sign that the public expects much more than business as usual”. He emphasized that all risks in horse sport need to be minimised, and fatalities reduced, and cited World Horse Welfare and the RSPCA’s work with the British Horseracing Authority.
However the key message is that no equestrian sport or activity is without risks, so all horse sports need a “social licence” to operate, with transparency, accountability and “adherence to the ethics of wider society at its heart”.
“Then there are those who pamper their animals, over-feed them treats, keep them in stables all day and pile rugs on them all year,” The rise of conditions like EMS, laminitis, obesity, gastric ulcers and behavioural stereotypies are the tragic health and welfare consequences. We’ve talked about it so much before but we have to be better at letting horses be horses. “That’s not to say we can’t have fun with or fuss over our horses, as long as we keep their health and welfare at the centre of our thinking; and that thinking has to be grounded as far as possible in the facts.
Owners need to be better at letting horses be horses for the sake of their welfare
The day concluded with World Horse Welfare President, HRH The Princess Royal giving her thoughts on the different presentations and topics. She questioned how the equine sector can deal with change and the huge number of influences which are driving changes. She said:
“Is all change progress? Technology has connected us to huge amounts of knowledge and information – but how do we know there is wisdom behind that knowledge?”
The Princess Royal also spoke about the responsibility which owners take on when they decide to purchase, loan or rehome a horse. She said:
“As an owner you have a 24 hour responsibility for your animal’s welfare. Not a responsibility which depends on how interested you feel or how busy you are from one day to the next. One key thing that struck me from all of today’s presentations is time. We might be more time poor now but spending time and patience is essential in training our animals. A quick fix is not effective or sustainable.